ussoccer.com: Now that it’s officially confirmed, how beneficial will it be for the team to play in the Copa America Centenario and have it hosted in the United States?
Jurgen Klinsmann: “Copa America Centenario 2016 in the United States is huge. It’s almost like a World Cup. The Copa America is similar to the European Championship, so it’s kind of just one step below the World Cup and having that hosted in the United States with big teams like Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay and our neighbors Mexico along with other CONCACAF nations joining in a 16-team tournament next summer is an unbelievable opportunity. For us, it’s a wonderful way to kind of test the players out, to see where we are at that point in time. Obviously, the big picture is always the World Cup 2018 in Russia, but a Copa America is something special so there will be packed stadiums, a lot of fans from all over the place and many exciting games to watch. So we are thrilled to host Copa America.”
ussoccer.com: The U-23s are going to play two matches against Brazil in Brazil next month during the international window. In terms of getting ready for the playoff against Colombia, what ways does this help?
JK: “For our Under-23 Olympic team it is vital that they get games in now because they face Colombia in March in a [home and away] playoff to qualify for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. We were able to arrange two friendly games with Brazil’s Under-23 team in the November fixture window, which is huge. It gives our players not only a chance to play against one of the best Under-23 teams in the world, but also to be in Brazil and get a little bit of a smell of what it could be then next summer at the Olympics. So this is a wonderful opportunity. We want to thank the Brazilian Federation for that invitation. For Andi Herzog and his team it’s a great opportunity to measure themselves.”
ussoccer.com: As part of the progress of player development, how valuable is the new U-12 Development Academy program?
JK: “Initializing now the Under-12 Development Academy Program is another big step in the right direction because the earlier we can work with the kids and influence their development, the more effective it will be and the more quality we can give them. So going down now to the age level Under-12 is huge. It’s very, very important. Obviously, it needs to grow. It needs to spread out over the entire country over years to come. Having better coaching there, identifying the talent earlier, getting them into a 10-11 month rhythm with enough games and especially good training sessions, is vital. Therefore, this is a big step in the right direction from U.S. Soccer.”
ussoccer.com: In looking toward putting the roster together for next month and the start of the Road to Russia, there are a lot of different considerations with the status of players and where they are at in individual situations. From MLS, there are several guys who have now completed their seasons. How do you work with them to maintain their levels so they are ready for the first World Cup Qualifier on Nov. 13 in St. Louis?
JK: “Looking at our November World Cup Qualifiers, obviously we monitor all our players in the different leagues in the different environments, and one challenge for us certainly is that for some of them their MLS season is already over. Either they didn’t make the playoffs or they just lost now in the playoffs in the first round, so that makes it tricky for us to keep them going until we meet up on November 8 for the St. Louis game against St. Vincent and the Grenadines. To give them training plans, to make sure that they keep going for players like a Jermaine Jones, a Kyle Beckerman, a Chris Wondolowski, a Mix Diskerud, a Lee Nguyen, and others is now really, really crucial because they are not playing games anymore prior to the World Cup Qualifiers.”
ussoccer.com: There are also several players with injury concerns. Can you update their status?
JK: “Obviously in our roster towards the World Cup Qualifiers there are players who are injured unfortunately right now. We have Geoff Cameron coming out in the last game of Stoke, but he should be okay. We had Brad Evans get a hamstring issue, so that will be tricky for him to catch up. Rubio Rubin, our youngest striker, is injured. Aron Johannsson is not playing because of injury right now. So we have all over the place some issues, and we need to find solutions for that. Hopefully they get back as quickly as possible, and if they can’t make it than other ones will have to step in and get the job done.”
ussoccer.com: Obviously form is a key factor going into a World Cup qualifier. Are there other players in situations that you are keeping an eye on?
JK: “Well, on one side you have obviously the injured issue or players that are out of MLS competition, and then you have some players that are just not making their starting lineup right now. John Brooks is one of them and Ventura Alvarado is another one, so it’s tough for some of our players to get regular playing time and that influences our situation prior to the World Cup Qualifiers. That’s just normal, but it’s sad to see because you want the youngsters to come through and to put a stamp on the team but they cannot do it if they sit basically on the bench in their club teams.”